Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Pride of Carthage, a review

I'll admit it: I wasn't that thrilled with the beginning of Pride of Carthage by David Anthony Durham. It seemed pedestrian. Throughout, there was something about the use of language that was somehow blasé to me. Yet, my intense and developing interest in various bits and corners of history that I'm not well versed in (the Civil War, the Punic Wars, pretty much anything outside of 200CE-1350CE) has been growing exponentially.

The workmanly quality of Durham's writing at first detracted from my enjoyment of the book; I have no idea what New Carthage looked like, unlike the very clear image of Republican Rome I've formulated through reading, seeing the modern city, and watching countless Roman movies and television shows (movies about Rome, not from it). However, once the story really got rolling, the writing faded into the background for me before the grand drama of historical figures.

What Durham really captured well were the little quirks of the various commanders (extrapolated from their behavior in the histories) as well as the troubles of the campaign. Hannibal's inability to bring Rome to heel due to those men back home in Carthage who wanted him to fail, the march across the Alps, even the dealings of his men with the "straw-haired" barbarians. The most memorable characters have to be the Molochite Monomachus (a gruesome man with a gruesome devotion to the Devourer) and the Massyli prince Massinissa, who was condemned to exile.

Massinissa's attack on Numidia is perhaps the greatest moment of the book. All of the previous writing seems to somehow work in this section, clicking into place and providing a powerful resolution to one of the B-storylines.

If you're not interested in the Punic Wars, this novel probably isn't for you. If you are, and you're somewhat turned off by the blandness of the writing to begin with, don't despair. The book isn't really about the textures of the environment, but rather the textures of the characters within it. Give it a chance. By the time Hannibal Barca's crossing the Alps... well, if you still don't like it then, you can abandon his mighty army and shut the book. Before then, you really don't know what you're getting involved in.

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